I left my blood in Manono

June 20, 1987 (journal)

My final day in Manono has been the hottest and most humid, yet this second visit to Zaire is ending on an optimistic note. Coverage of our medical and child sponsorship programs has been successful, and my spirits are bolstered by a nice experience this morning— I was allowed to give a little of myself to the never-ending battle here.

While in Ankoro, we picked up a skinny young girl, yet another victim of a poorly-executed delivery. Ka Ku dji Ngoy is 16, but with her slight build (no more than 5’2”, 90lbs),  she could pass for 12 or 13. As is often the case, her hips are too slim for a normal delivery, and as a result the girl has been permanently damaged. Serious infection has resulted, hence Dr. Steiner has brought her back with us to Manono, where he will operate on her this Friday.

Knowing her predicament and loving her innocent face, my heart has gone out to Ka Ku.  I smile and wave when I see her around town—sometimes across the street at the market, more often in her hospital bed, with her mother (who also made the trip from Ankoro) sitting stoically by her side. She returns my greetings with a pretty, unblinking stare, which usually turns to a smile and a wave. I know she sees me as someone quite strange to herself.

This morning I was hanging around the hospital grounds, taking photographs and writing notes, when Steiner rushed up to me. “What blood type did you say you have?” We had discussed the possibility of my giving blood in Ankoro, and now he told me my blood was needed for Ka Ku. My heart leapt at the prospect—I didn’t care to be a hero, but welcomed the opportunity to help her.

My blood was tested and as suspected was O-positive; the most common, and a match for the girl. The only condition, I implored, was for a new, sterile needle. I received the doctor’s word on this, and two male nurses took my blood, insisting of course, before, during and after that I took photographs of them.

A little while later, Dr. Steiner led Ka Ku and her mother to me, explaining what had transpired. The girl sat close to me, thanking me in her broken Swahili. We sat together for awhile, not really talking.  As word spread around the hospital, there was discussion, and softer looks in my direction. Finally, instead of always taking, taking, taking with the camera, I was able to give something back.